Where is the welfare?

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Are you happy with the welfare services on campus? From Nightline to the University Health Centre, we seem to have it all. And this is true to an extent, but the University’s welfare services haven’t managed to meet student growth over the last few years.

The main issue appears to be that the growth in the number of students at the University just hasn’t been met with a proportional growth in counsellors, medical staff, and building space. This year, some of the courses at University have more than doubled in size, and it’s getting to the point where those in charge of welfare can’t possibly keep pretending that these extra students never turned up during freshers’ week. Because they did. You only have to head over to the Heslington East campus to see that the University has built even more accommodation, presumably for all of the extra students they have. Even the libraries have been renovated to make more space for those who need it. So why hasn’t the same idea been implemented into the University’s welfare service, something that is considerably more important than a library or two?

Now, it seems to me that the University’s welfare services like Open Door are only useful for students on campus if they can keep up with the demands. Students who use the service are often suffering from emotional or psychological problems, and shouldn’t be left on the doorstep because Open Door cannot cope with a rise in cases. Around 1,600 students used the Open Door services last year – ten per cent of the University’s student population. If the University won’t expand for the benefit of ten per cent of its population, however silent they may be, then we have serious problems.

Fair enough, Open Door isn’t the only issue when it comes to welfare on campus; the University Health Centre can’t keep up with student growth either, which would be fine in most cases. If you have an illness and make your way over to the Health Centre, and they’re too busy to see you (as is often the case), then most would go back home and use the illness as a good excuse to catch up on TV and drink hot chocolate all day. The Open Door service, however, is a different matter. The University needs to be there when the going gets tough, because matters like these are often time-dependent and place-dependent. Last year, the service dealt with 25 per cent more cases than it had the year before. There is clearly a rise in the need for this service, and if the increase isn’t met with proactivity, and sufficient staff with sufficient training, then Open Door becomes little more than irony.

The University won’t provide additional funds for services which don’t appear to be feeling the strain, but will instead focus on the more visible changes, which is probably why the library was renovated. The more serious issues bubbling under the service are often disregarded if there isn’t enough of a student voice to raise concerns, and due to the nature of the Open Door service, I doubt enough noise will have been raised on the matter. The University must be willing to listen to the minority of its students; if they require greater welfare services, a sufficient coping mechanism must be in place.

So where does this leave us, as said fast-growing student population? It leaves us with over-stretched and under-staffed services on campus, a place which is supposed to be our first port of call when times get hard. Indeed, there are plenty of alternative welfare services, from Nightline to the NHS in town. Students at York do have options, but the University shouldn’t be able to dismiss these issues, in the hope that next year’s student crowd won’t need the Open Door service, and calm will be restored once again. That isn’t going to happen. Needs are increasing almost as much as the population.

Students recognise the welfare services provided as something designed with students in mind, so the University has to step up to the mark, and stop closing its doors on the students who need them to remain open.

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